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Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary denies reports of recent rape and torture

Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary on Tuesday denied reports published this month by the Associated Press of recent rape and torture of Tamils by security forces, calling the allegations "baseless and unfounded". 

"The government of Sri Lanka is for zero tolerance with regard to sexual abuse and so on," Kapila Waidyaratne was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. 

"The investigations that have been carried out have been concluded and closed," Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary added. 

The reports published by AP stem from interviews with 20 Tamil men and a review of 32 psychological reports, whose cases had previously been highlighted by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP). 

Responding to Mr Waidyaratne's remarks, the executive director of ITJP, Yasmin Sooka said: “The Government of Sri Lanka should be challenged to make a full disclosure around the investigations they conducted into the cases they claim they have investigated and the outcome of their investigations. Furthermore, this information should be made public and made available to the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is not humanly possible to investigate 50 complex cases in less than a week - especially if you don’t know who the complainants are.

"It is precisely this cavalier approach to the justice process that leads victims to reject any domestic processes in Sri Lanka, as it frankly cannot be trusted. In this particular case involving male sexual violence victims, only an independent international body with expertise in handling male sexual violence should investigate certainly not the Sri Lankan Government, which has alleged perpetrators on its witness protection body and where the perpetrators may end up investigating themselves."

"The Defence Secretary’s statement raises the question of how Sri Lanka investigated the allegations of rape by its peacekeepers in Haiti. The Sri Lankan Major General sent to investigate the 2013 allegation admitted that he didn’t interview the complainant or medical staff who examined her but nevertheless he exonerated his soldier. Is this the sort of investigation Sri Lanka has just conducted into 50 cases in less than a week?"

"Regarding the child sexual exploitation between 2004-7, Sri Lanka allegedly failed to put any of the perpetrators in jail despite the fact the UN found prima facie evidence against 134 soldiers. Before it sends more peacekeepers abroad, Sri Lanka should be asked some tough questions about all these “investigations” that routinely exonerate its security forces. If the United Nations wants to ensure that zero tolerance means something, its time to take up the rights of victims rather than allowing troop contributing countries to conduct bogus investigations”.

Commenting on the reports detailing rape and torture by security forces from 2016 until July 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said, "while the UN is unable to confirm this until we mount an investigation, clearly the reports are horrifying and merit a much closer inspection from our part, especially if they occurred in 2016 and 2017." 

The Sri Lankan military had already rejected the reports as a fabrication. 

Sri Lanka's army commander, Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake was quoted by AP as saying, "there are people who come back and make up these stories, especially people who are living in Europe."

"I'm very confident on what I say, because army was not involved and as for that matter I'm sure that police also were not involved," he said, adding, “There’s no reason for us to do that now.”